Downtown-based emergency crisis team sharpens skills in outer East Portland

Although Portland’s Urban Search and Rescue team is based downtown, see how their training might enable them to rescue you‚ anywhere in our area‚ when disaster strikes‚

USAR firefighter Wesley Loucks directs USAR team members as they shore up a concrete floor to prevent it from collapsing.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As you conduct your business in one of Portland’s tall buildings, the floor beneath you starts to shake. You see light fixtures start to swing and plate glass windows burst.

In a heartbeat, the floor gives way, and you’re trapped in a dark, concrete-and-steel crypt.

Soon, you hear the reassuring voices of trained experts. They tell you how to protect yourself as they remove rubble and stabilize the partially-collapsed structure.

Coming to your rescue are the men and women who make up Portland Fire & Rescue’s elite Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team.

Preparing for the worst
It probably won’t be a terrorist attack or jetliner crash that crumbles a large building in the greater Portland area‚ a catastrophic disaster will, most likely, be the result of an earthquake.

At Portland Fire & Rescue training facility, Station #2 on NE Sandy Blvd., we watch USAR team members sharpen the skills they’ll use to save hundreds of lives when disaster does strike.

“A number of years ago,” USAR firefighter Wesley Loucks tells us, “the City of Portland developed a program to have firefighters certified to help provide rescue assistance in major disasters, such as structure collapse.”

After calculating weight and load distribution, USAR team members pre-build shoring materials, before erecting them in an at-risk building.

In one area of the training yard, team members are building frames made of lumber to shore up unstable concrete floors.

“Several times a year, we hold exercises to hone our skills,” Loucks continues. “This training helps us keep our skills current. And, as new USAR information and techniques becomes available, we put it into practice.”

Inside the practice structure, USAR firefighters erect the shoring they’ve built.

During the drill we’re watching, team members calculate the overall weight distribution of a concrete slab floor, such as used in high-rise building construction.

Then, they design a “shore” to hold that amount of weight. They construct parts of the shore outside the collapsing structure, then bring it inside, setting it up and erecting it to stabilize the floor about them.

“This structural collapse scenario is something our team is likely to face in a disaster,” Loucks says. “It could be from a terrorist attack‚ or, most likely here in Portland, an earthquake. Whatever the cause‚ we’re ready to save lives.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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